How MSMEs can achieve sustainable growth in the ‘RRR’ space

Sustainability for MSMEs: Climate change, energy shortage, employment generation, the problem of inequities, rising e-waste problem are some of the raging concerns of today that need urgent solutions. Any business model that addresses all or most of these concerns together has a better potential of being viable in the long run.

Common sense would say that Sustainable and (economically) Healthy Enterprises (SHE) will be more relevant in the coming era of work. (Image: pixabay)

By Satya Gupta 

Sustainability for MSMEs: The pandemic gave entrepreneurs a chance to build brands that could discover new spaces which in turn fed a start-up boom. Estimates suggest that the pandemic created a global economic shock three times worse than that created by the 2008 financial crisis. To put the economy back on track, we need entrepreneurial ideas and a pollination of fresh thinking.  

MSMEs, the country’s largest employers, are the backbone of the economy and the growth of the economy is intricately linked with MSMEs. We have nearly 6.3 crore MSMEs and they contribute around 30 per cent to GDP through domestic and international trade. The pandemic dealt a crushing blow to the sector, as work abruptly halted and raw material and supply chain costs shot up. But MSMEs comprise small enterprises that can look for new opportunities to sail through and even more sustainable pathways for growth. 

Each challenge opens up a window of opportunity. Climate change, energy shortage, employment generation, the problem of inequities, rising e-waste problem are some of the raging concerns of today that need urgent solutions. Any business model that addresses all or most of these concerns together has a better potential of being viable in the long run. Common sense would say that Sustainable and (economically) Healthy Enterprises (SHE) will be more relevant in the coming era of work. An economy focused on Repair, Recycle and Refurbishment (RRR) addresses nearly all the above listed challenges. As per a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy in India will bring an annual benefit of Rs 40 lakh crore by 2050, and reduce Green House Gas emissions by 44 per cent.   

Repair Economy 

We all need electronics to function. But we all need repairable electronics that enable their longest use so that precious resources are conserved. Till a few decades ago, appliances carried instructions on how to repair them. Then, came Tablets, laptops, and smartphones with warnings and threats that repairing will void the warranty. Due to this, there is a ‘Right to Repair’ movement gaining momentum worldwide. Some governments are also introducing Right to Repair policies. New York is the latest to have introduced such legislation, called the Digital Fair Repair Act, which will allow customers to get their damaged electronic products repaired at any repair centre of their choice, and not just with the original maker. Last year, the European Parliament passed a similar resolution to make certain electronic products repairable for up to 10 years. France too has a law to institute a classification index for repairing products. To enable digital access to all and to reduce inequities in opportunities, in education and so on, we need to make our tablets, smartphones and all our electronic gadgets repairable and thus long-lasting.

Repairing is part of India’s culture, as we tend to not easily discard objects after use. Most of our kitchen shelves have jars and bottles that are being re-used, mother’s mixer is always repaired and not replaced.  But repair of electronics needs to be organised and trustworthy. MSMEs can easily scale up on this space, and strengthen the country’s electronic ecosystem, that’s now seeping into all sectors. The repair economy is worth $20 billion. Moreover, it creates job potential for those skilled in electronics repair and maintenance but may have got left behind in the job race. 

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Even after repair, if you still want to discard a product, 90 per cent of its components can be refurbished or put to use elsewhere in some other product. Products that are repairable and can be refurbished after use, ensure greater economic, social and environmental (ESG) good. Upskilling for refurbishment and repair is easier than finding a job as a full-fledged engineer. 

MSMEs have a huge potential to design Electronics Products which are engineered for repairability and upgradability from the design conceptualization stage. These innovative products with these features can create a strong niche for the MSMEs to create a market for such products and scale to become successful large businesses.

Recycling for Conservation 

Recycling products is a move that takes care of the problem of e-waste. According to a Central Pollution Control Board report in 2019-20, India generated 10,14,961.2 tonnes of e-waste for 21 types of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). Such e-waste comprises hazardous substances such as lead and mercury and also valuable substances such as iron, steel, copper aluminium and plastics. To save precious metals, we must be able to extract these from unused products. Also, we cannot dump our landfills with dangerous chemicals that will sit in the groundwater and affect both land and aquatic life. Being the third-largest producer of e-waste, after China and the US, India needs to think of e-waste and the longevity of products wholistically. 

We have been witnessing unprecedented heat waves this year. Weird weather conditions like the extreme heat and cold, flash floods and cyclones have been happening with greater frequency, due to climate change across different geographies at different times. The UN’s apex climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its latest report, makes it clear that the world is short of time on climate action. As per the report, in order to keep global heating to below 1.5°C above the baseline levels of 1850, fresh global emissions have to start declining by 2025 and get close to zero by 2050.  

At the G7 Summit recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about energy security. We need to drive huge leaps in our innovation for a lighter carbon footprint, to save the planet and ourselves, and for our food, water and energy security. While the digital footprint is set to expand, it’s time to think of deeper penetration of RRR.  

MSMEs can achieve sustainable growth in the Repair, Recycle and Refurbishment space. Science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke had said “the future is not to be forecast, but created”. Let’s create a better future with RRR. 

Satya Gupta is the CEO, EPIC Foundation and President, VLSI Society of India. Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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